Demand rises for intensive care for pets

MU’s veterinary hospital offers courses in emergency and critical care.
Friday, March 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:08 a.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

A cat named Miss Annie lies in an incubator, undergoing a blood transfusion. She has been in the hospital since Feb. 23 because of problems with her kidneys and diabetes, and her owner has visited her every day. Miss Annie will never be completely well again, but veterinary technician Mary Flanders said she will soon feel good enough to go home one last time.

“We know she’s feeling better when she starts acting a little grouchy,” Flanders said.

High value placed on pets has created ICU demand

Years ago, severely ill pets like Miss Annie might have been put to sleep. Now, thanks to small-animal intensive care units such as the one at the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, animals can receive the same high-tech care that humans do. Flanders said the cost can sometimes reach into the thousands, but many people are now willing to pay large sums of money to take care of pets that are more like members of the family.

“It’s a personal decision,” Flanders said. “We just offer them the care, and then it’s up to them.”

Flanders explained that when people spend thousands of dollars on a car, no one raises an eyebrow, and that it is just a matter of what a person perceives as valuable.

One reason this high level of importance is placed on pets is that people nowadays spend more time indoors and less time socializing, and pets make easy companions, Flanders said.

MU responds to demand for pet intensive care units

Regardless of the reasons, pet intensive care units are popping up in many cities, and veterinary technicians trained in this particular type of care are in high demand.

“Specialty hospitals like this one are increasing rapidly, and they need trained employees to work there,” Flanders said.

To fill this void, the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital now offers a two- to eight-week program that trains veterinary technicians in emergency and critical care. While they are in the program, veterinary technicians take classes and learn skills such as setting up an EKG, properly caring for a tracheostomy tube and monitoring a closed urinary collection system. Flanders said the techs will be better able to assist in surgery and post-surgery care.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Dr. Tony Mann, who works at the hospital.

Veterinary technicians must work to find time for program

Mann said the program’s main impediment is that the veterinary technicians’ employers are not willing to let them leave for two or more weeks to receive the additional training.

“We have to convince them that it’s worthwhile,” Mann said.

Rebecca Relling, the first student to complete the program, said it was definitely worthwhile to her.

“The exposure is just phenomenal,” Relling said. “It’s a wonderful facility to learn ICU techniques.”

Relling emphasized that because MU has a large teaching hospital, it has resources and equipment that made her time there eye-opening.

“It was great because veterinary medicine is changing constantly, and it’s up to you to keep up,” Relling explained.

Relling said one of the best parts about being in the program was remembering why she wanted to be a veterinary technician in the first place.

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